Global Dharma

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ITALY

Celebrating Diwali

ITALY’S 156,000 HINDUS FESTIVELY celebrated Diwali last October, in a country that officially recognized the Hindu religion and its festivals only two years prior. From the many small towns in the Alps to the foggy valleys of the Padan Plain and the warm shores of Sicily, the whole “boot” shone with colorful, glittering lights for this glorious night.

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Festival of lights: Monastics and other Hindus from around Italy gather at Gitananda Ashram to celebrate Diwali.

In a unifying glow, Italy’s Diwali was celebrated with pujas, vigils and cultural initiatives attended by Indians, local Italians, Mauritians, Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis. In the Hindu communities of Reggio Emilia, Vicenza, Mantova, Brescia and Parma—to mention just a few—the celebrations lasted all through the night, with devotees kept awake by prayers and traditional chants. In Catania, Sicily, the city government granted the Hindu community the use of a 1,000-seat amphitheater for the celebration.

On October 23, for the first time ever in Rome, a Hindu conference was held at the hall of the Santa Maria in Aquiro, part of the Institute of the Italian Parliament, testifying to the improved spirit of dialogue between Hindus and other Italian institutions. Speeches delivered by Italian politicians indicated a spirit of true pluralism and openness towards Hindu culture and tradition. The event’s host, Senator Manconi, emphasized that this was truly a historic event. Senator Malan agreed during his heartfelt speech. Of the Hindu religion, he warmly stated: “This hall is full of ancient marble remnants from the past, but I had never imagined that something more ancient and lasting than these stones laid down by the Roman Empire would ever enter it!”

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BOOK REVIEW

Himalayas: Through the Lens

COVERING ANCIENT HIMALAYAN architecture, recent projects in restoration and new innovations in building and crafts, the book Himalayan Style demonstrates through vivid photography the tremendous vitality, range and potential of Himalayan forms and designs. Containing a treasury of images by photographer Thomas Kelly and complete with eloquent prose written by Claire Burkert, the book engages readers familiar with Himalayan culture and those new to it alike.

Himalayan Style begins with a focus on the many historic structures in Bhutan, India, Nepal and Tibet that have been renovated and often adapted for new purposes. It shows how the region’s style is expressive of spiritual belief, from the distinctive shapes of stupas, to offerings of flowers and tikka powder. A section titled “Traditional Living in the Himalayas” presents homes and furnishings exhibiting a variety of construction methods, materials and decorative detail. Another section highlights contemporary lodges for travelers to the region.

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Style: A Shiva Lingam at Pashupathinath, Nepal’s most revered Hindu temple.

The book closes with a vibrant section celebrating the creative ways of living and working in the Kathmandu Valley, where designers and craftsmen work together, creating innovative homes and crafts utilizing local materials and techniques.

Throughout, Thomas Kelly presents readers with his personal collection of stunning images, ranging in focus from the small detail of a Tibetan tea table to a vast mountain landscape dotted with stupas. Himalayan Style offers a fresh look at the man-made beauty in the Himalayas and deepens our understanding and appreciation of this overwhelmingly beautiful region.

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A woman collects water in the Tusha Hiti, an exquisite oval step-well in the courtyard of Sundari Chowk. Seventy-two finely crafted stone carvings line the step-well.

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INDIA

Preventative Medicine

IN EARLY NOVEMBER OF 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated India’s new Ministry of AYUSH and appointed to its head Shripad Yesso Naik. The new ministry is charged with encouraging growth of India’s rich therapeutic traditions across the nation. Ayush means life or lifespan; and AYUSH is an acronym for the traditional life-enhancing therapies to be promoted: ayurveda, yoga and naturopathy, unani, siddha and homeopathy.

This appointment was made in keeping with the Indian government’s recent focus on health care. Under India’s upcoming universal health plan, the government intends to offer guaranteed benefits to all of India’s 1.25 billion people. The program will cost an estimated $26 billion over the next four years.

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Blending cultures: Mr. Naik greets the media as he arrives to take office at the Ministry of AYUSH in New Delhi in November 11, 2014

Addressing the 32nd annual convention of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin held in San Antonio, Texas, Mr. Modi explained, “It is my firm belief that our focus needs to go beyond health insurance. The way ahead lies in health ­assurance. We need to focus on preventive health care, where public participation has a major role to play.” This idea of preventative care is what the new ministry is all about, as it promotes India’s ancient traditions, which make for a strong, effective and comparatively inexpensive means of improving the health of the nation.

In discussing the system of yoga, Mr. Naik told Reuters: “This is our system, and it has not received enough prominence. We will take it to the masses.” To fuel its work, the new ministry has been allocated US$174 million for the 2014-15 financial year.

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UNITED KINGDOM

Hindus Educating Police

A NEW POLICE TRAINING VIDEO was recently published by the National Council of Hindu Temples in the United Kingdom (NCHT). It features NCHT general secretary Satish K. Sharma offering important information to police officers about Hindu customs, practices and beliefs. He states in the video, “The Hindu way of life is a way of living according to an understanding which has been refined and tested and gathered over at least 5,000 years.” A similar video created by the Chicago, Illinois, police department states, “Even a basic knowledge of a person’s customs and culture enables police officers to conduct their duties in a more efficient and respectful manner.” The NCHT video is available at: bit.ly/nchttraining

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Needed knowledge: Mr. Sharma gives a useful summary of Hindu culture, customs and beliefs in his 15-minute video.

SWITZERLAND

The Swiss Honor Their Cows

IN LATE SEPTEMBER TOWNS throughout Switzerland observed Alpabfahrt, an annual festival celebrating the journey made by Alpine region cows as they leave their summer homes in their high mountain pastures and travel to the lowlands for their winter stay on farms. Alpine cows number some 380,000 in Switzerland, 500,000 in Austria and 50,000 in Germany.

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Bells and flowers: Over 200 cows, beautifully adorned, parade down main street in the village of Schüpfheim, Switzerland.

Following their massive migration from the mountains, the cows, elaborately decorated, take part in parades which also feature local dance and music, including alp-horn players and yodelers. Local merchants and farmers set up stands displaying local goods for sale, such as alpine cheeses, honey, breads, jams and a variety of traditional cow bells. The rural farmers are proud of this celebratory tradition and of their cows—especially those that produce the most milk. These bountiful bovines are given the largest bells and most colorful decorations for the event.

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AFGHANISTAN

Facing Discrimination

A CCORDING TO A JANUARY 2015 article by The Wall Street Journal, many Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan are feeling compelled to leave their homeland due to increasing discrimination from the country’s religious majorities. Rawail Singh, a leader of Kabul’s Sikh community explained: “If the country’s new government doesn’t pay attention to this issue, then one day there will be no Sikhs or Hindus left here.” Residents surmise that the population is down to about 7,000 from roughly 200,000 Sikh and Hindu residents before 1992.

One main issue Sikhs and Hindus face is opposition to the custom of burning their dead. Many Afghans see the practice as anti-Islamic and have tried to stop it, shouting insults or throwing stones at funeral processions. Also, Hindu and Sikh children are being bullied in schools. Despite these and other challenges, Mr. Singh says he is proud of being Afghan. “I love Afghanistan. It’s my country. This is where we belong.”

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Where we belong: Rawail Singh, one of the leaders of Kabul’s Sikh community, helps his wife with cooking for Diwali.

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INDIA

Congresswoman Visits India

ON HER FIRST VISIT TO INDIA, US Congresswoman Tulsi­ Gabbard met with Dada J.P. Vaswani in Pune on December 25, 2014. While there she attended a kirtan session at the Sadhu Vaswani Mission’s Spiritual Camp in the area. Upon arrival she addressed those present, “I am coming to you today all the way from Hawaii in the spirit of aloha: deep respect and open heart.” She led the session in praise of Krishna, stating that Krishna’s teachings truly have the power to solve the world’s problems.

Vaswani praised the congresswoman, saying: “A new civilization is to be born, and of this new civilization, the woman’s soul will be the builder, and Tulsi Gabbard is one such woman soul. She is one of the great builders for whom the world is waiting.”

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In the spirit: Tulsi Gabbard singing and playing a guitar with the Sadhu Vaswani Mission’s Spiritual Camp kirtan group.

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FROM DECEMBER 29TH, 2014, TO
New Years Day, devotees of the Narassingua Peroumal temple of Saint-Pierre, Reunion, enthusiastically celebrated Vaikuntha Ekadasi, one of the biggest festivals for Lord Vishnu, with pujas conducted by five priests brought in from India. This year the high point of this four-day event occurred on the night of December 31, New Year’s Eve.

RESEARCHERS FROM THE
­University of Vienna, Austria, have discovered something unexpected about the Bladderwort plant, or Utricularia, a normally carnivorous plant that commonly resides in fresh, still-water ponds and swamps. By means of advanced bladder-like traps, this genus of plant captures and dissolves small insects for nutrients. The December 2014 study showed that when the plants grow in areas with fewer insects, they resort to trapping pollen and algae for food. Plants on this more vegetarian diet proved healthier than their purely carnivorous counterparts, showing increased weight and length.

ON JANUARY 6, JAGADGURU SRI
Sri Bharati Tirtha Maha­swamiji of the Sri Sharada Peetham, Sringeri, Karnataka, announced his successor. On January 23, 2015, Sri Kuppa Venkateshwara Prasada Sharma was initiated into sannyas and officially recognized as Mahaswamiji’s designated successor in this unbroken lineage which extends back to Shri Adi Shankaracharya.

OUR CONGRATULATIONS TO THE
Ramakrishna Order for having produced over a century’s worth of their monthly 40-page publication, The Vedanta Kesari. Since its inception in 1895 the religious monthly, which emphasizes Vedantic teachings, has featured articles in English and other languages pertaining to the philosophy of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.

AFTER NEARLY 15 YEARS IN GESTATION,
The House of Religions opened in Bern, Switzerland, last December. This multi-religious place of worship houses sections for five major religions: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and a syncretic form of Islam popular in Turkey called Alevism. Brigitta Rotach, the project’s cultural director, expressed the theme of the House of Religions: “When someone is afraid of another religion, it can be enough for the person to meet people of that religion to wipe away the prejudice.”

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